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THOMAS CHRISTIE, ESQ. EDINBURGH.
Lichfield, Jan. 27, 1788.
I AM glad to find your health improving. So. ardent a pursuit of knowledge, such extraordinary insight into so many of its avenues at your very early period of life, makes one tremble lest the corporal springs should be weakened by intense and perpetual pressure upon those of the intellects.
The allegoric vision in the charming journals you sent me, is dear to my understanding, and to my heart; but genius, piety, and candour, very sweetly blended, shine with clear and steady light through every page of those journals. Your account of the mud city entertained me infinitely. It was indeed pity that Rousseau had not been made its governor.
I never saw Belmont, but have heard much of its beauty. The scenery of Colton I know to be uncommonly fine. Look in the Gentleman's Magazine for May last, and you will find verses of mine that are tolerably faithful to the peculiar
features of that valley; that Eden amid the wilderness, with its grey zone of barren mountains.
Mr Sneyd of Belmont was the friend of my youth, and many a pleasant hour has glided away in his society beneath my father's roof, and in his own house, when his sisters lived with him at the family-seat in the more cultured and less romantic neighbourhood of Stafford. That seat he sold some years since. My fair and gentle sister, who died in the flower of her youth, was his first love; but his family were desirous that he should marry to higher rank, and ampler fortune; and succeeded in persuading him to stifle the fastgrowing tenderness. Vanity, I think, more than passion, afterwards gave his hand to a proud Beauty, who alienated him from many of his former friends. Our family were of that number. His present lady, the cousin-german of his first, is a very different woman, friendly and good;but the habits of intimacy broken are not easily resumed. People form new connections with more facility.
Of your other friend on the Derbyshire tour, Sir Isaac Heard, I have heard much;-of his, and of his lady's virtues. Their history is marked and interesting. His constancy to her, which had the severest trials, was that of earlier and purer ages.
With a son of Lady Heard's, by a former husband, I was well acquainted; the most prepossessing being, of fourteen, I ever knew-he sunk, by consumption, at eighteen; a fallen blossom, but a translated Angel.
I doubt whether the utility of Doctor Croft's projected dictionary will be in proportion to the immense labour of the undertaking. Upon one of your objections to Johnson's, viz. that he contents himself with giving very copious authorities for the use of words, without telling us his own opinion of the respect due to those words, I must observe, that I think it a very judicious abstinence. Opinions are so various; verbal partialities, and verbal dislikes, as well as prejudices of other kinds, are so frequent, and so arbitrary, that perhaps no one person has a right to decide upon the elegance, or inelegance of particular words, or modes of expression. With two people, equally ingenious, I often find one very fond of certain verbalisms, and usages of style, which the other detests. What then remains but to settle these wide extremes of differing tastes, not by reference to the opinion of any third individual, but by examining whether they are in frequent use with various writers of acknowledged eminence?
Till people have familiarized themselves with such writers, and learned to appreciate the weight
of their respective authorities, they will do well to abstain from using any word or phrase, in their own writings, which are not in general use, always taking care to avoid idioms, which disgrace serious composition of every sort. They should also shun all expressions which are pert, quaint, or vulgar.
Certainly Johnson's reason for excluding Bollingbroke and Shaftesbury, from his list of authorities, was a most ridiculous one. O! let us be thankful, that a being so prejudiced, forbore to throw the iron fetters of his dogmas over our style! Have we not enough of his attempting to throw them over our poetic taste, in that unjust, and because ingenious so much the more mischievous, work, the Lives of the Poets?
I hope Doctor Croft will not take up that arrogance, which the most arrogant of men forbore to assume. What right has one man's opinion to "bestride the verbal world, like a Colossus."
Shaftesbury was a much admired prose writer in his day, but within the last fifty years nothing has made greater progress to perfection than style. Shaftesbury has one most inelegant mode of expression, viz. "this is pleasant enough, in the way of gaiety and humour ;" and " such arrangement is powerful, in the way of argument ;”—and "these fancies may be well parried, in the way of burlesque." In short, I found this trick of
phraseology perpetually in my way, when I was looking for the celebrated elegance of Lord Shaftesbury's style.
What an enthusiast you are to London! I wish you do not say a great deal too much for that imperial city. For her greatness perhaps you cannot, but for her justice I think you do. How does Johnson esteem her? let us hear him :
"London, the needy villain's general home,
Cowper in his Task has given a more faithful portrait of her than you, in your youthful glow of generous partiality, or than Johnson in his caustic spleen.
The worthy Mr Green, and the ingenious and enlightened Mr Saville, desire their compliments; I wish you knew more of the latter. He is a man of strong imagination, and benevolent sensibility, with a considerable fund of classic and scientific knowledge ;-nor know I a better poetic critic; though his accurate severity now and then makes my muse murmur a little, but reflection generally shows me that he is right.
I have mentioned you to Mr Hayley and Miss Helen Williams, as a rising character in the literary world.